Shawn Hill: You know, by all rights, I should hate this issue. It does something very different with my favorite Avengers moment, the discovery of Cap encased in ice. It features the Illuminati, my most hated of all Marvel non-teams. It still doesn’t explain why the featured Avenger (this week, Steve Rogers, natch) dies. And it also manages to refer to Civil War and the Initiative, two fatal missteps as far as I was concerned for Marvel-616.
And yet, it’s a pretty cool story. It has that rarity of What Ifs?: a happy ending. I mean, a little ambiguous, but mostly happy. Frank Castle seems to find some measure of peace. Tony Stark gets to carry out everyone of his megalomaniac power and control ideas under the guise of greater liberty and safety, and yet we somehow don’t end up in a fascist hegemony.
Maybe I’m also a sucker for the art: Kowalksi especially has an interesting take on several Marvel fixtures, sensitively depicting Castle and Mr. Fantastic in creative ways. Edwards does the coda, and while a little stilted, his work still hits all the right emotional marks. Who knew we could have a What If? that A) isn’t about Ultron and B) doesn’t involve an apocalypse?
Jamil Scalese: I really enjoyed the playfulness of this one. While we get that ruined world early, a result of the discovery of the dead Captain America, it’s a really upbeat and heartfelt story at its core. Structurally it’s pretty different from your typical one-off issue. The artist change in the middle makes a lot of sense since the tone shifts from wide-scope. almost cinematic, storytelling to something more intimate.
Good stories evoke a reaction, and while this issue has a positive vibe I’m a little weirded out by the softer, more heroic Punisher. Keatinge does a commendable job in justifying this new Frank by showing us his many heroic deeds in the macro and the micro but its still a little unsettling to see the antithesis of Steve Rogers do the things we expect from a person wielding the shield to do.
The use of Marvel lore is a good touch. Other than the first issue, which was a stripped down affair on purpose I think, the use of the mythology has been diverse and smart, but at the same time there are tiny connective sinews that are also a boon. I’m a fan of Illuminati; despite their clunky entrance in the MU, the idea is just ripe with coolness (as Hickman proves in small bursts over in New Avengers). You are right though, those space/time headaches are damned stupid.
Shawn: Keatinge is using them as a deus ex machina to start each story, when he should really just try a little harder and come up with a reason for each hero to be killed, that then throws the world out of whack in some progressively logical chain of causality. Much harder than “they keep having multiverse aneurysms” though. But I guess his concern isn’t so much why they died as it is what would happen next if they did, which I concede he’s been very creative about in three out of four issues so far.